looking forward to hearing from you
info at mikaelsurget dot com
I'll leave you with an email I sent when I was travelling through South America.
~ As I have been on my journey I have found that many people tell you what you should see and do. Mostly I just smile back and make my own plans, but sometimes a suggestion resonates and the idea of going to Juan Fernandez Island
enters my being and festers. Also known as Robinson Crusoe Island it is the location from which the book evolved. It is perfect. The idea of a remote, historic, tourist-free island is a must for me. I book the excursion.
A last minute flight change means I am off to the airport far before the sun will rise. I arrive to a dark and closed airport. As we pull up 3 men are waiting outside and my driver says something in Spanish to them. I understand
Juan Fernandez and that is all.
There is a big response from the three men and I can only assume I am in the right place. Out I get, left to try and converse with these men all alone. It is very early and my energy for the task is low. The dictionary comes out
and we try. Every once in a while a word is said that I understand. I repeat it. I say it in English. And we all smile and talk louder, happy with our successful communication. Then silence follows until the next burst.
I have found that I like to say si. And I say it in so many ways that it sounds like I am fluent in Spanish. I also add in the word poquito (a little). This always gets a good response and solidifies my linguistic
abilities. Si! I say affirmatively. Si? I say questioningly. Si, si, si I say agreeably. But the reality is who knows what I am saying yes to. It could easily be an answer to them asking if I am a stupid idiot. Si!
I say affirmatively. Are you sure? Si? I say questioningly. And then throw in poquito! Just a little bit of a stupid idiot. Of course this brings great laughter and, since I don't have a clue, I laugh too. I am sure I have had this
conversation many many times.
More passengers arrive and we make our way around the outside of the airport to the airplane. It does not look like the airport will be open before we leave. While the plane is being loaded the
pilot gets a phone call. No one speaks English, but I assume it is the airline calling as he then asks us our names and repeats them, a roll call of sorts. When my name is called my last name mysteriously becomes Gringo. Yes Tomas,
Patricio, and Ricardo are all here, but I become Michael Gringo. Said many times as if the caller cannot fathom who I might be. Michael Gringo! Si Gringo! Michael pause...Gringo! I of course think the whole world is
staring at me, but this is not the time to worry as we are being ushered into a plane where you get an ailse and window seat at once. The challenge now is how to fold my legs around my neck so I can sit down.
It is a 1 1/2 hour flight with not much to see until we arrive. And then it is breathtaking. Land exploding from the ocean in massive ridges of green licked by the vibrant blues of the water and sky. We land 2 km from the boat
that will be our second leg of the journey. The dock, is located in a volcanic crater bay and a steep hike gets us there. We are given pills for sea-sickness, not a good sign, and I spend the next
hour holding tight to the rail, trying to stay firmly on the deck. When we arrive I promplty board another boat and am shuttled to Pangal, the inn I will stay at for the rest of my stay on Juan Fernandez Island.
I am the only guest and am very much isolated in the crevice of two massive mountain ridges. I feel very lucky. I unpack and head out to explore.
I am immediately joined by little leapy dog, who I am later to envy. He lives such a life of joy. Running in and out of water, up and down the cliffs with his dog friends, only to come home and be fed and loved.
Together we go along the path to the town. If the Ballista Islands were the bird shit islands then I must admit that Juan Fernandez has to be christened the Cow Shit Islands. Cows are all over and they
prodigiously cover the land with shit. Little leapy dog, I soon discover, is fond of eating the cow shit so I make a quick mental note to not let little leapy dog lick me anymore. I am looking for a place to lay in the
sun. Not an easy task on an island where flat land is at a premium. Eventually I find a spot and that is when the battle with little leapy dog begins. As soon as I reach his level I am fair game and seem to be the cause of great
amounts of licking. I fall asleep with my hand firmly entrenched in little leapy dog's chest keeping him at bay.
Later I tour the village and make my way back. Still with little leapy dog at my heels. But now a new situation. The cows are blocking my path. This shouldn't be a big deal. I know cows. What's the problem?
But, it seems to me, the cows in my way are not too happy with my presence. And they have horns. And little leapy dog is no help at all. He
avoids them by scampering up the cliff to save himself from their anger. I throw a rock, which does nothing and makes me feel silly. So I have no choice but to follow little leapy dog up the cliff, delicately tip-toeing through
the cowshit covered rocks.
The next day I was off for my first real hike. Muy dificile I was told. I smile, yes I am a gringo, but please my gringoness is not going to stop me from a hike and instead of paying attention to the warnings
I try and figure out the difference between muy and mucho which leads me to trying to figure out the difference between bien and bueno. Still at a loss. Today little leapy dog is not to be seen so I am on my own. I do not know
why I have been challenged on this trip to walk up the sides of mountains, with sheer cliffs, on paths that, at the wide part, seem to only be 6 inches. This one not only has a path that literally disappears, but also is on rock
that crumbles to sand when stepped on. So, one more time, I am hiking up a dangerous mountain, but up and up I went determined to make the first peak. Success. Beautiful pictures. Why not do one more peak I think? I manage three
ridges which is a pretty daunting task. I take some time to lie in the sun, but trying to relax with the nagging fear of the return trip is not very relaxing at all. So I give up and start to make my way back.
As I am heading down, I seem to lose the path. I can see where I have come from, but not where I am to go. I inch myself lower and lower, which basically is just taking me to the edge and a sheer drop onto rocks below.
My eyes scour the other side looking for the path. Every ridge in the mountain looks like
a possible one, but none seem right. I have been searching for about half an hour and panic is mounting. Panic and frustration. I am petrified of heights and am stuck on a tip of a mountain where I can only look down. My
heart is pounding and I am feeling very foolish and a million times more scared than I have ever been before. Too scared to try any of what I think may be the path. So I start to backtrack and that is when I spot the trail. It
takes a long time for my heart to return to normal. As it is subsiding I find myself doing a crabwalk down the side of a cliff, staying as close to the earth as possible. Not very dignified, but safe. It is here that I make a new
resolution with God. I am thinking of Robinson Crusoe and the fact that he ignored so many omens and ended up here for 23 years. Muy dificile resounds in my brain. And a new philosophy emerges. Love your fears! I keep facing this
fear of heights and it does not
seem to go away. So now I have decided to love it, and honour it, and stay on flat ground for the rest of my life. I will not be bungee jumping. I will not be parachuting. Enough is enough. These
decisions have taken me the whole way back to make and I am finally smiling. My heart is beating regularly. Then I turn the corner. There they are. Glaring at me with their pointed horns. I am in no mood to deal with the killer
cows so I glare back at them and tip-toe over the cliff far out of their reach.